County Legal Fees Soar

One of the first orders of business announced by new County Mayor, Doyle Arp, was to bring the county's legal costs under control. Well he did it. Apparently they are now under the control of the Knoxville legal firm of Kramer Rayson. According to documents provided to commissioners at Monday's commission meeting, legal fees paid by the county, 8/01/06 thru 11/01/06, have topped $53,000.00. Over $37,000.00 of those fees have been paid to Kramer Rayson LLP. Most of the remaining balance of the costs were paid to Sproul & Hinton to the tune of nearly $16,000.00. These cost do not include all the legal fees associated with the recent lawsuits brought against the county by Sheriff, Tim Guider and Court Clerk, Lisa Niles.

Unfortunately, we may never know what these legal fees were for.  A request to view those public records, the bills, was denied. According to the finance department, the request to view the public records was denied by attorney Robert Bowman of Kramer Rayson LLP. Bowman, apparently acting on behalf of Mr. Arp, stated that billing information from his and other legal firms were not available for public inspection under attorney-client privilege. This is of course is wrong.

State law clearly requires that: all state, county and municipal records shall at all times, during business hours, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of Tennessee, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law. TCA 10-7-503. Fortunately, there are no laws that would prevent $53,000.00 in legal bills paid by the tax payers to be denied the right to see what they are paying for.

For several years now, long time County Mayor's attorney, Harvey Sproul, has come under scrutiny for what some considered excessive billing. County Mayor Arp directed Attorney Sproul to stop attending commission meetings in an effort to cut down on legal costs. While Sproul's costs have gone down, "Other Contracted Services" outside legal fees, have gone up dramatically due mostly to the fees charged by Kramer Rayson. It is note worthy that according to election commission records, attorneys with Kramer Rayson LLP made $1,500.00 in contributions to Arp's election campaign. Sproul made no contributions.

Currently there is a lawsuit pending against Arp for refusing access to public records and attempting to charge illegal fees to view those records. Apparently more legal action is going to be required to view public records. Not good for the tax payers but great for attorneys.